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In the Philippines, as in other Catholic countries, June 24 is observed as the feast day of Saint John the Baptist. The day offers an excuse to engage in revelry such as dousing water on unwary people.

In Aliaga, Nueva Ecija, in Barangay Bibiclat, hundreds of devotees of the village's patron saint, John the Baptist, transform themselves into "mud people" -- literally "taong putik."  The locals call  the ritual Pagsa-San Juan. Outsiders call it the Taong Putik Festival, an event  -- an experience -- that has recently  caught  the attention and interest of the tourism sector.

Nobody knows exactly when the Taong Putik Festival started. One legend says the image of the patron saint which was brought to Bibiclat by early Ilocano settlers, helped in driving away poisonous snakes from the village. The name "Bibiclat" came from the Ilocano word "biclat" meaning snake.  Another legend says that when Japanese soldiers during World War II were about to execute all the men in the village in retaliation for the death of 13 fellow soldiers, it rained so hard that the male villagers had to be herded into the church to seek shelter. After a while, the Japanese soldiers had a change of mind and set their captives free. The residents attributed this to a miracle of Saint John the Baptist, and  vowed to pay homage to him on his feast day by wearing costumes patterned after his attire -- this time, using native materials.
 
 

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At dawn on June 24, devotees garbed in dry banana leaves or vines
emerge from their homes and walk the Bibiclat streets.
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They go from house to house asking for alms in the form of candles,
or cash with which to buy candles, for Saint John.
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They smear themselves with mud,
thus the term "taong putik." The "mud people" include men...
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women...
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and even children.
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The "mud people" later converge at the church plaza
to light candles for Saint John...
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pray in supplication or in thanksgiving...
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think of the blessings bestowed on them by their patron saint...
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and participate in the outdoor Holy Mass.
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Despite the near-pagan flavor of the festival, the Church manages
to emphasize the religious significance of the event.
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Local and foreign tourists and government officials including
Nueva Ecija Governor Tomas N. Joson III, come to experience the festival.
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After the Mass, the musicians -- properly attired for the occasion -- 
strike up a tune to signal the start of the much-awaited procession.
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The image of Bibiclat's revered patron saint emerges from the village church,
borne on the shoulders of selected male devotees...
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as hundreds of "mud people" follow.
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The procession moves down Bibiclat's main street and back to the church.
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The Taong Putik Festival -- a unique and indigenous ritual
in honor of Saint John the Baptist by the people of Bibiclat.
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Photos courtesy of the Nueva Ecija Provincial Tourism Office
Scanned  by Ramon R. Valmonte
 

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